Campbellville, ON ---- With the 2013 yearling sales quickly approaching, one man who has had tremendous success at the auctions over the years is Jack Darling.
Darling, who has nearly $16 million in purse earnings as a trainer, has a terrific reputation for transforming yearlings into champions on the racetrack.
The Cambridge resident has had stunning success over the years developing young horses including the likes of Gothic Dream, who captured the 1996 Metro Pace, which will have its 26th edition on Aug. 31 at Mohawk.
The 60-year-old has also campaigned the likes of Northern Luck, Ticket To Rock, Northern Sky, Jr Mint, Twin B Champ, St Lads Popcorn, Apprentice Hanover and Big McDeal, just to name a few.
“About the only good thing about getting older is that you gain more experience. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now and I’ve learned a lot each and every year,” Darling said. “I look at a lot of yearlings and a lot of people go for the pedigree more than the individual. I go for the horse more than the pedigree. I will give up a little pedigree for more of the individual’s conformation. I’ve had great luck with that and noticed that I’ve also had success with sounder horses because of that. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a horse with a broken bone or chip or one that broke down on me.”
After purchasing his group of yearlings each year, usually around eight, Darling admits he notices very early which horses stands out.
“When we break them in the fall and get them going, I have a pretty good idea which horse or horses are going to be successful,” he said. “It’s just the way they conduct themselves and their natural talent. I’m sure most trainers are like that as well.”
Last year, Darling started off with eight 2-year-olds and all made it to the races. This season, eight of 10 did the same.
Once again, Darling’s trainees are making their mark on the racetrack this season with the likes of top Ontario Sires Stakes performers Nefertiti Blue Chip, Alibi Seelster, Cluster Hanover and Shadowbriand.
Darling's Take That Hanover will begin in the She's A Great Lady eliminations this Saturday at Mohawk in hopes to captures this year's C$430,000 final on Saturday (Aug. 31).
“I certainly can’t argue with the group that I have this year,” he said. “They all seem to be racing well and the year is still early for 2-year-olds. We’ll find out what they’re really made of in the coming months.”
Darling, who ventures to Florida each winter for three months, leaves his stable behind in Ontario at Classy Lane Training Center near Puslinch.
“We get them broke and jogging and my wife and I will travel to Florida for a few months every winter. My son, Justin, works for me, which is great and my other help do a great job of putting the jog miles into the horses and slowly bring them down until I get back. Actually, this past year I sent a few yearlings to Jack Warner, George Zirnis and Gary Payne, because we ran out of stalls.”
When Darling returns at the first of April, speed of his freshmen is not an issue.
“Where they’re at time wise doesn’t really bother me, it’s if they’re doing it right and being sound,” he said. “They’re usually between 2:20-2:30 and we go from there. We have a routine that we go by and have been successful doing it.”
It was quite the opposite in Darling’s early career in Windsor where he focused solely on claiming horses.
“When I first began training, I wouldn’t even consider buying yearlings,” Darling said. “That’s just how I made my living at the time, because that horse had to immediately make money and make a return on my investment. The thought of buying a yearling and not having any income for six months due to training down was something that had no appeal to me.”
Darling’s operation shifted to purchasing yearlings with driver Trevor Ritchie, then Darling teamed up with owner Dan Smith in the early-mid-1990s. The pair found success with horses like North America Cup winner Gothic Dream and Northern Luck.
Smith and Darling’s partnership ended years ago and since then Darling has owned alone each yearling he’s purchased.
“It’s been about eight years since I’ve been owning horses solely by myself and I like it that way. I can train them accordingly and just do things my way and we’ve had success.”
With the state of the industry in flux, many trainers have engaged in purchasing yearlings outside of the province, but Darling seized the opportunity. This past year, he purchased 10 yearlings with seven of them sired in Ontario.
“The only thing I was really concerned about with the program was the purse structure for the major stakes races at Woodbine and Mohawk,” Darling said. “I was optimistic about our sires stakes program with the government and I happened to find Ontario-sired yearlings that I liked and was able to get them bought at very fair prices.”
Darling also notes that first-crop sires isn’t something that “scares” him away at the auction.
“It’s not something that scares me away or anything,” Darling said. “Again, I go more for the horse than the pedigree page and I’ve had good luck in the past with first-crop sires, so it’s not something that bothers me.”
Darling, who has 884 career wins as a trainer, believes that a key ingredient to running a successful stable is to run it like any other business.
“The one piece of advice that I would suggest to a young trainer or anybody really is to run your stable like a business and not a hobby,” he said. “Don’t fall in love with your horses because there are times where you have to buy them and times where you have to sell them.”
Business or hobby, expect Darling to make his mark once again at this year's yearling sales in hopes of his second Metro Pace winner in 2014.